One of my favorite jokes that I’ve heard in the past few years is this. “Arguing with an engineer is like wrestling with a pig in mud. After a while you realize that the pig likes it.” I am technically not an engineer by profession, but my undergraduate degree is in Engineering, and so I did spend many hours doing all sorts of homework and various math problems, but more than homework and math I spent a lot of time arguing with my fellow engineers. Most of these arguments were not fights, but were intense discussions almost always about what is the most efficient way to do some activity. We spent hours arguing about the best way to cook and clean in the apartment, the best way to arrange our furniture, the most efficient way to do our grocery shopping. Engineers, I believe, are typically not afraid of a good old fashioned argument, but that doesn’t mean that they enjoy conflict. Speaking for myself, I’m not the type to avoid conflict, but I also don’t really enjoy it. More times than not nothing is resolved and there is now a break in the relationship, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Conflict is one of the greatest opportunities that life ever offers us in this world.
First, conflict provides us an opportunity for deeper relationships with one another. Recently I heard about how pediatricians want to hear about two-year-olds being a handful for their parents because that is where they should be developmentally. At the age of two (and really for the rest of their lives) children begin to establish a separate identity from their parents. This separation is normal, necessary, and good. It would be extremely unhealthy if a parent was still relating with their fourteen-year-old the same way they did when they were two. The good part of this is that a parent can have a deeper relationship with a fourteen-year-old than a two-year-old because of that separation. The same is true of all relationships. We have conflicts partly to establish our own identity, which if done well creates space for a deeper relationship with another person.
Second, and more importantly, conflict is the arena of God’s revelation. To understand this bold claim we must examine one of the most ignored passages of Scripture and the one right next to it that is often misused. The passages in question? Matthew 18: 15-20. Jesus is speaking and he says. “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
We all know how difficult it is for everyone to speak directly to the person who has offended them. We find all sorts of excuses as to why we don’t do this, with the top two probably being the belief that the other person won’t listen, and that we aren’t that upset about it. When we make these excuses we not only mishandle conflict and promote more dissension, but we actually miss out on encountering the presence of God. Verse 20 says, “where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” This is not to give encouragement to small prayer groups, it is to emphasize the reality that God has given his people the task of reconciliation as a top priority, and promises to be there in our midst as we do this great task.
If you would like to experience the presence of God in conflict bringing healing and depth to your relationships, then I highly recommend attending the “Conflict Transformation” seminar coming up on Nov. 12th described here.